The Serpent and the Rainbow (film)

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The Serpent and the Rainbow
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wes Craven
Produced by Doug Claybourne
David Ladd
Written by Richard Maxwell
Adam Rodman
Based on The Serpent and the Rainbow 
by Wade Davis
Starring Bill Pullman
Cathy Tyson
Zakes Mokae
Paul Winfield
Narrated by Bill Pullman
Music by Brad Fiedel
Cinematography John Lindley
Edited by Glenn Farr
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • February 5, 1988 (1988-02-05)
Running time 98 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $19,595,031 (USA)

The Serpent and the Rainbow is a 1988 American horror film directed by Wes Craven and starring Bill Pullman. The script by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman is loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, wherein Davis recounted his experiences in Haiti investigating the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was allegedly poisoned, buried alive, and revived with a herbal brew which produced what was called a zombie.


Ethnobotanist/anthropologist Dennis Alan (Pullman), in visiting the Amazon, receives a potion connecting him to his protective totem (a jaguar) through a series of visions, and is later guided by a jaguar from the Rainforest itself. Returned to Boston, he is sent to Haiti by a pharmaceutical corporation looking to investigate a drug used in Haitian Vodou, in the hope of using it for anesthesia.

Alan's exploration in Haiti to find the drug, assisted by the doctor Marielle (Cathy Tyson), draws the attention of the authorities, so that the commander of the Tonton Macoute, Captain Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Morae), warns Alan to leave Haiti. Alan refuses to leave, and continues to investigate. Eventually, he encounters a local witch doctor, Mozart (Brent Jennings), who can produce the drug; but Mozart sells him a substitute instead.

Alan is arrested a second time by the Tonton Macoute and tortured; but again refuses to leave. Later he meets again with Mozart to obtain the true poison. A few hours before gaining this, Alan experiences a nightmare planted in his mind by Peytraud, and wakes beside a dead woman. The Tonton Macoutes then frame Alan for murder.

Alan is brought to Peytraud, who places him on an airplane at gunpoint; whereupon Mozart gives him the drug in exchange for international fame. Alan thence returns to Boston to study the components and effects of the drug.

At a celebration dinner, the wife of Alan's employer is possessed by Peytraud, who warns him of his own imminent death. Thereafter Alan returns to Haiti, where (at Peytraud's behest) he is buried alive. Having emerged he returns to the Tonton Macoute headquarters looking for Marielle. There, Alan and his jaguar spirit defeat Peytraud, prompting Marielle to say "The nightmare is over".


  • Evencio Mosquera Slaco as Old Shaman



The film is based on Wade Davis' non-fiction book of the same name, Davis had agreed to sell the rights for the book on the condition that Peter Weir would direct and Mel Gibson would star in the film, however neither Weir or Gibson would be involved in the project. Wes Craven eventually signed on as the film's director.[1]


The Serpent and the Rainbow was filmed in Boston, Massachusetts, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and in Haiti.[2] During production in Haiti the local government informed the cast and crew that they could not guarantee their safety for the remainder of the film's shoot because of the political strife and civil turmoil that was occurring during that time and as a result production was relocated to the Dominican Republic for the remainder of the shoot. In an interview, Wes Craven stated that unlike his previous films that had problems with the MPA, the first cut for this film got an R rating without any problems.[3]

Differences from the Book[edit]

In the case of Clairvius Narcisse of Haiti, the poison that caused the appearance of death was reported to be tetrodotoxin. After he was unburied, he was given a brew derived from Datura stramonium, which he claimed had mind control properties.

The film depicts the powdered drug blown into the victim's face. This is most consistent with involuntary dosing of scopolamine, an alkaloid found in datura and known to facilitate behavior control, but not the appearance of death.

The character of Captain Dargent Peytraud is loosely based on Luckner Cambronne, who was second-in-command to François Duvalier and the commander of the Tonton Macoutes during the reign of Duvalier.


The film was released theatrically in the United States by Universal Pictures in February 1988. It grossed $19,595,031 at the box office.[4]


The film received mixed reviews from critics, it currently holds a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes.[5]

DVD Release[edit]

The film was released on DVD by Image Entertainment in 1998.[6] This version is out of print. It was subsequently re-released by Universal Studios in 2003.[7]


  1. ^ "The Serpent and he Rainbow (1988) - Trivia". Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - Filming Locations". Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  3. ^ "The Serpent and he Rainbow (1988) - Trivia". Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Serpent and the Rainbow". Retrieved 2011-04-13. 
  5. ^ "The Serpent and the Rainbow". Rotten Rotten Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Serpent and the Rainbow (DVD)". Retrieved 2011-04-13. 
  7. ^ "The Serpent and the Rainbow (DVD)". Retrieved 2011-04-13. 

External links[edit]